The Pope has an interesting conception of History as he displayed in a homily he preached before he left for Fatima last week:
During the course of history, Pope Francis said, many of our conceptions have changed. Slavery, for example, was a practice that was accepted; in time we have come to understand that it is a mortal sin.
“God has made himself known throughout history” he said, “His salvation” goes back a long way in time. And he referred to Paul’s preaching in the Acts of the Apostles when he tells the God-fearing children of Israel about the journey of their ancestors from the Exodus from Egypt until the coming of the savior, Jesus.
The Pope said salvation has a great and a long history during which the Lord “guided his people in good and in bad moments, in times of freedom and of slavery: in a journey populated by “saints and by sinners” on the road towards fullness, “towards the encounter with the Lord”.
At the end of the journey there is Jesus, he said, however: “it doesn’t end there”.
In fact, Francis continued, Jesus gave us the Spirit who allows to “remember and to understand Jesus’ message, and thus, a second journey begins.
This journey undertaken “to understand, to deepen our understanding of Jesus and to deepen our faith” serves also, Francis explained, “to understand moral teaching, the Commandments.”
He pointed out that some things that “once seemed normal and not sinful, are today conceived as mortal sins:
“Think of slavery: at school they told us what they did with the slaves taking them from one place and selling them in another…. That is a mortal sin” he said.
But that, he said, is what we believe today. Back then it was deemed acceptable because people believed that some did not have a soul.
It was necessary, the Pope said, to move on to better understand the faith and to better understand morality.
And reflecting bitterly on the fact that today “there are no slaves”, Pope Francis pointed out there are in fact many more of them…. but at least, he said, we know that to enslave someone is to commit a mortal sin.
The same goes for the death penalty: “once it was considered normality; today we say that it is inadmissible” he said.
The same concept, he added, can be applied to “wars of religion”: as we go ahead deepening our faith and clarifying the dictates of morality “there are saints, the saints we all know, as well as the hidden saints.”
The Church, he commented, “is full of hidden saints”, and it is their holiness that will lead us to the “second fullness” when “the Lord will ultimately come to be all in all”.
Thus, Pope Francis said “The people of God are always on their way”.
When the people of God stop, he said, “they become like prisoners in a stable, like donkeys”. In that situation they are unable to understand, to go forward, to deepen their faith – and love and faith do not purify their souls.
And, he said, there is a third “fullness of the times: ours”.
Each of us, the Pope explained, “is on the way to the fullness of our own time. Each of us will reach the moment in which life ends and there we must find the Lord. Each of us is on the go.”
“Jesus, he noted, has sent the Holy Spirit to guide us on our way” and he pointed out that the Church today is also on the go.
Pope Francis invited the faithful to ask themselves whether during confession there is not only the shame for having sinned, but also the understanding that in that moment they are taking a “step forward on the way to the fullness of times”.
“To ask God for forgiveness is not something automatic” he said.
“It means that I understand that I am on a journey, part of a people that is on a journey” and sooner or later “I will find myself face-to-face with God, who never leaves us alone, but always accompanies us” he said.
And this, the Pope concluded, is the great work of God’s mercy.
As Cardinal Newman noted, Doctrine can develop. He proposed tests to determine whether a proposed change is a development of doctrine:
Go here to read an explanation of these tests. PopeWatch doubts if Pope Francis has ever heard of these tests of Newman. If he has he obviously is unconcerned with them. The Pope seems to believe that the Holy Spirit provides us with free flowing continuing revelation, revelation that is free to contradict Church teaching, and even prior divine revelation. This is a common stance of many heretical groups throughout the history of the Church. It is odd and alarming to here it now being echoed by the Vicar of Christ.
In reference to the death penalty the late Cardinal Dulles, a Jesuit, noted the weight of authority in reference to the death penalty:
In the Old Testament the Mosaic Law specifies no less than thirty-six capital offenses calling for execution by stoning, burning, decapitation, or strangulation. Included in the list are idolatry, magic, blasphemy, violation of the sabbath, murder, adultery, bestiality, pederasty, and incest. The death penalty was considered especially fitting as a punishment for murder since in his covenant with Noah God had laid down the principle, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image” (Genesis 9:6). In many cases God is portrayed as deservedly punishing culprits with death, as happened to Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16). In other cases individuals such as Daniel and Mordecai are God’s agents in bringing a just death upon guilty persons.
In the New Testament the right of the State to put criminals to death seems to be taken for granted. Jesus himself refrains from using violence. He rebukes his disciples for wishing to call down fire from heaven to punish the Samaritans for their lack of hospitality (Luke 9:55). Later he admonishes Peter to put his sword in the scabbard rather than resist arrest (Matthew 26:52). At no point, however, does Jesus deny that the State has authority to exact capital punishment. In his debates with the Pharisees, Jesus cites with approval the apparently harsh commandment, “He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die” (Matthew 15:4; Mark 7:10, referring to Exodus 2l:17; cf. Leviticus 20:9). When Pilate calls attention to his authority to crucify him, Jesus points out that Pilate’s power comes to him from above-that is to say, from God (John 19:11). Jesus commends the good thief on the cross next to him, who has admitted that he and his fellow thief are receiving the due reward of their deeds (Luke 23:41).
The early Christians evidently had nothing against the death penalty. They approve of the divine punishment meted out to Ananias and Sapphira when they are rebuked by Peter for their fraudulent action (Acts 5:1-11). The Letter to the Hebrews makes an argument from the fact that “a man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses” (10:28). Paul repeatedly refers to the connection between sin and death. He writes to the Romans, with an apparent reference to the death penalty, that the magistrate who holds authority “does not bear the sword in vain; for he is the servant of God to execute His wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). No passage in the New Testament disapproves of the death penalty.
Turning to Christian tradition, we may note that the Fathers and Doctors of the Church are virtually unanimous in their support for capital punishment, even though some of them such as St. Ambrose exhort members of the clergy not to pronounce capital sentences or serve as executioners. To answer the objection that the first commandment forbids killing, St. Augustine writes in The City of God:
The same divine law which forbids the killing of a human being allows certain exceptions, as when God authorizes killing by a general law or when He gives an explicit commission to an individual for a limited time. Since the agent of authority is but a sword in the hand, and is not responsible for the killing, it is in no way contrary to the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” to wage war at God’s bidding, or for the representatives of the State’s authority to put criminals to death, according to law or the rule of rational justice.
In the Middle Ages a number of canonists teach that ecclesiastical courts should refrain from the death penalty and that civil courts should impose it only for major crimes. But leading canonists and theologians assert the right of civil courts to pronounce the death penalty for very grave offenses such as murder and treason. Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus invoke the authority of Scripture and patristic tradition, and give arguments from reason.
Giving magisterial authority to the death penalty, Pope Innocent III required disciples of Peter Waldo seeking reconciliation with the Church to accept the proposition: “The secular power can, without mortal sin, exercise judgment of blood, provided that it punishes with justice, not out of hatred, with prudence, not precipitation.” In the high Middle Ages and early modern times the Holy See authorized the Inquisition to turn over heretics to the secular arm for execution. In the Papal States the death penalty was imposed for a variety of offenses. The Roman Catechism, issued in 1566, three years after the end of the Council of Trent, taught that the power of life and death had been entrusted by God to civil authorities and that the use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to the fifth commandment.
In modern times Doctors of the Church such as Robert Bellarmine and Alphonsus Liguori held that certain criminals should be punished by death. Venerable authorities such as Francisco de Vitoria, Thomas More, and Francisco Suárez agreed. John Henry Newman, in a letter to a friend, maintained that the magistrate had the right to bear the sword, and that the Church should sanction its use, in the sense that Moses, Joshua, and Samuel used it against abominable crimes.
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century the consensus of Catholic theologians in favor of capital punishment in extreme cases remained solid, as may be seen from approved textbooks and encyclopedia articles of the day. The Vatican City State from 1929 until 1969 had a penal code that included the death penalty for anyone who might attempt to assassinate the pope. Pope Pius XII, in an important allocution to medical experts, declared that it was reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life in expiation of their crimes.
Summarizing the verdict of Scripture and tradition, we can glean some settled points of doctrine. It is agreed that crime deserves punishment in this life and not only in the next. In addition, it is agreed that the State has authority to administer appropriate punishment to those judged guilty of crimes and that this punishment may, in serious cases, include the sentence of death.
Go here to read the rest. If the Pope is seeking to reverse the traditional teaching of the Church, rather than simply to call for the non use of the death penalty in most circumstances, than his action raises grave questions indeed, questions that PopeWatch is certain the Pope has not given a second to ponder,